Marrying Nook and Kindle by Mark Stone
August 2013. So you want an eInk device with built in lighting that lets you shop from both Barnes & Noble and Amazon for ebooks? Seems like a simple enough request. I embarked on that journey some weeks ago, and while the eventual process was not too complicated, it was a journey fraught with wrong turns and dead ends. I thought I'd put together some guidance so that the road is a little easier for the next traveller.
Device. My point of departure for this journey was the Nook Simple Touch with Glow Light. I picked the Nook for several reasons:
- eInk with integral reading light;
- Easily hackable (this project does require rooting your device);
- Affordable (list price is $99, but I got mine used off of Amazon for about $70).
Software. Since we're starting with a Nook device, it's a given that we'll have the Nook ereader software, access to the Nook shop for browsing and purchases, and the Nook library allowing one to manage a collection of ebooks both on device and archived online at Barnes and Noble. Since the Nook is built on Android, it's also a given that we'll be expanding the devices capabilities based on what's available for Android.
The missing piece is the Kindle app for Android. This will allow us to read, shop, and manage a library of Kindle ebooks. In order to install this missing piece, we'll need root access to the Nook, and we'll need to be able to browse, find, and install the Kindle app. As it turns out, it's the latter three steps that are the most difficult part.
Gotchas. eInk devices in general, including the Nook Simple Touch, are out of favor at present. This means that this device is effectively orphaned, and not receiving any development effort or system updates. As time passes, it drifts further and further away from the current state of the Android ecosystem.
For example: the Nook Simple Touch runs Android 2.1. For those of you keeping score at home, that's the final version of Eclair, whereas the most current version of Android is 4.3, the third installment in the Jelly Bean series. That means that crucial Android apps like the Google Play Store are designed and debugged for Jelly Bean, and have Eclair as an afterthought if at all. The Google Play Store is still called the Market for Eclair, and it does not perform well.
Furthermore, the default Android browser for Eclair is a dinosaur by current standards, and also was never designed with an eInk device in mind. To call it clunky would be a compliment; at times it is simply nonfunctional.
Nor can one easily get around these problems by side loading apps. I spent considerable time side loading different versions of the Kindle app, trying to find a version that was old enough to work with the Nook Simple Touch. In the end this guessing game was nothing more than frustration. I hit upon a better path, and it did not involve side loading.
Building a Better eReader. So here's what I actually did.
I'm not going to repeat all of the details of how to root a Nook Simple Touch. Those instructions are available many places, and I found Matthew Acton's blog post to be an excellent, easy-to-follow guide.
The tricky part starts where Matthew's post leaves off: getting Google Apps for Android installed. There are detailed instructions on the XDA Developers' forums, and they do work, but read them carefully. Pay attention to the warning about 2 factor authentication and your Google account. Most importantly, note that while you can install the Google Market (now Google Play), search is broken. This means, among other things, that you cannot search for and install the Kindle app. XDA offers instructions for installing an app called "SearchMarket" that is supposed to fix this problem, but I had difficulty finding a way to install it (since search is broken), and even when I did get it installed it did not fix the problem.
There's a better way.
First of all, it's worth browsing through the Google Market until you find Opera Mini. This makes a less cumbersome browser on the Nook Simple Touch than the default browser. Even without being able to use search, you should find it near the top of the "Top Free" section of apps in the "Communication" category of the Google Market.
Now that you're running Opera Mini as your browser, head over to AppBrain. Here you can follow links at the top of the site to install the AppBrain app. On your Nook, make sure under "Settings > Applications" that you have the checkbox checked to allow installation of applications from unknown sources. AppBrain is an app in which search is not broken, enabling you to easily search and install from AppBrain's archive of apps. Search for, and install the Kindle app.
There you have it: a sub-100 dollar eInk Android device, with internal reading light, with readers for and access to both the Barnes & Noble and Amazon Kindle ebook archives, and a modest but capable Opera Mini browser for the web. Happy reading!